Given the Howard Government’s disdain for such things as parliamentary
scrutiny, federalism and the separation of powers, you’d think the
ALP might have developed some enthusiasm for checks and balances. Not
so – or if they have, it certainly hasn’t reached state level.
News this morning
is that South Australian premier Mike Rann is proposing to abolish the
state’s Legislative Council. If re-elected next year (which is a
virtual certainty), Rann promises to put the issue to a referendum in
2010, in which voters can choose between the status quo, abolition and
“reform” of the upper house.
South Australia’s upper house was reformed in the 1970s to provide for
statewide election by proportional representation, with half the
members elected simultaneously in each House of Assembly election. As
a result, it provides good breadth of representation: the last election
returned five Liberals, four ALP, one Democrat and one Family First.
It’s certainly much more democratic than the lower house, in which
governments have repeatedly been returned with a minority of the vote.
But governments don’t like democracy when it works against them. This
is the problem upper houses face: if the government has a majority,
they’re seen to be a useless rubber stamp (unless there are enough
Barnaby Joyces to go around). But when the government doesn’t have a
majority it cries “Obstruction!” at every turn.
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Rann probably knows that abolition of the Council will never be
approved, and instead he’s using it as a stalking-horse to get up a
“reform” package. Certainly there are some reforms that could, usefully,
be considered. But Rann’s wish list
includes “reducing its ability to indefinitely delay legislation”, and a house of review without teeth would simply be ignored.